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Water for the Wilted

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Mulberry purple fading into a lilac-edged hue. A rounded blemish bruising his skin, rounding the base of his finger. Stark and annular, it stands out against his pale complexion. 

 

His left hand is spread against his thigh, contrasting against dark trousers, flat and steady. It makes the phantom of a ring circling that one, special finger all the more noticeable. 

 

“You’ve had an interesting week.” 

 

It’s all he can look at, even in an office filled with too much purple to name. He’s surrounded by the colour, yet it’s the small mark upon his hand that has him enslaved. 

 

“Is that a question?” Ben asks, eyes never lifting from the mark -- looking at it so closely blurs the edge of his vision into a volatile red. 

 

How could something so painful be so strangely pretty? 

 

“Your mother called." He only sighs at this, glancing up to meet his therapist’s eyes. 

 

They’re a frosty kind of blue; shards of ice, staring him down -- so cold, they peer through his mind like molten melting flesh and uncover all that resides there. Always unnerving; always having him squirm further into the too-small armchair. 

 

“Nice of her.” He finally quips, a minute later when Ben can no longer take her piercing gaze. 

 

“She mentioned an incident.”

 

“An incident.” He echoes mockingly, looking everywhere but at Doctor Holdo. 

 

“At work.” 

 

“Ahhh.” Ben nods, jaw clamping down hard at the anger brewing inside, the storm creeping closer and closer as the seconds tick by. “I’m sure you’ve heard it all from my mother -- though, that doesn’t exactly sound ethical--”

 

“Which is why I’m asking you.” She interrupts, iron becoming her tone. “Here’s your chance to explain the story, Ben.” 

 

He shuffles in his seat once more, silence lingering after the words are said. His eyes find hers, flickering out to the window before landing on the clock that chimes along with his heart-beat. 

 

Tick. Ba-boom. Tock. Ba-boom. 

 

Ben shrugs. 

 

Tick. Ba-boom. Tock. Ba-boom. 

 

“There’s not much to tell.” He admits in a thin voice, feeling her icy gaze narrow in. 

 

Tick. Ba-boom. Tock. Ba-boom. 

 

“A man complained about his steak -- it wasn’t well-done so he decided to yell at me about it.” He pauses, fist clenching. “Me. The waiter. Who didn’t cook any steak, or anything at all for that matter -- but no, yell at me for delivering the food I have no control over.” He’s growling now, heat rising beneath his skin; face, hot and itchy, increasing by the rapt attention Dr. Holdo shows. “I mean, who the fuck even wants steak well-done?! It’s chewy, loses all it’s flavour, hard to cut -- it’s just burnt fuckin’ meat.” Ben exhales after his slight outburst, slumping into the seat. 

 

“And you mentioned this to the customer?” 

 

“Yep.” He admits, voice sharp with his blunt attitude. “Yes, I mentioned this. I told him exactly what I thought and where he could direct his complaints.” 

 

Ben’s gaze returns to his therapist once again. 

 

“Nice to hear your customer service has improved.” 

 

“He deserved it.” Ben argues, irritated easily by the clear sarcasm her voice drowns in. “And retail doesn’t suit me.”

“Neither does therapy, but here you are -- because you need it--”

 

“Because it’s court-mandated--” 

 

“Because it’s necessary.” Holdo insists firmly. “Just like your job. Which you’re lucky to have, thanks to your Uncle.” Ben huffs petulantly following her mentioning of Luke; a reaction he can’t shackle down. “With your record, employment becomes beyond rare, Ben.” 

 

“You don’t think I know that?” 

 

“I don’t think you acknowledge it.” She counters softly, as if that soothes the burn of reality. It only earns a harsh scoff as he contemplates what’s become of his life post prison -- how the handcuffs still constrict and chafe at his wrists long after they’ve been taken off. 

 

“I acknowledge it just fine -- it’s impossible not to when I used to have an actual fucking career. Maybe I just don’t like to think about it.” He toys with his lips, dropping his gaze to the purple pumps dressing two crossed feet. “Did that ever occur to you?” 

 

“I understand that, Ben -- I really do.” Frustration wells as his eyes find the purple curtains, brushing past them to the paned glass allowing in the sunlight. “But these sessions require you to think about it; they allow it to be thought about, free of judgement.” Dr. Holdo brushes a purple strand of hair, tucking it behind her ear. 

 

So much purple. So many shades matching the bruise wrapped around his ring-finger.

 

“I’m trying to help you here--”

 

“Yeah, well, you’re not!” He snaps. “Helping, that is… you’re not helping.” 

 

“You won’t let me in.” Holdo states firmly. “Three months in with no progress; no talk of prison or the crime you commited. No talk of your father--”

 

“He’s not to be discussed.” 

 

“No. Not yet, anyways.” Holdo agrees, after a beat. “You’re clearly not ready.” 

 

“He’s not to be discussed.” Ben repeats, anger forcing his eyes to meet hers head on. “Ever.”

 

Dr. Holdo raises a brow. 

 

“Then what are we to do, Ben?” He grimaces, hating the condescending question that bears down; pressing into the weighted guilt that becomes more loaded with each passing day. “Do we sit here and ignore it all? Do I keep on telling you how to handle certain situations better while you continue on your path of self-destruction?” 

 

He frowns. “I… I never wanted this.” 

 

“No. But you have to, just like me.” She states calmy, crossing one leg over the other. “I want to help you -- not just for you, but for your mother’s sake too.” She pauses, a rare sigh leaving her lips. “And I don’t think I can do it alone.” 

 

“You’re referring me to someone else?” 

 

She smiles thinly and shakes her head, lilac hair bouncing. “You can’t get rid of me that easily Ben Solo.”

 

“Then what?” 

 

She hesitates, pursing her lips while he squirms against fake leather. 

 

“There’s a program -- it’s fairly new; only been running for  a year or two, designed to help ex-cons reintegrate back into society--”

 

“With other criminals?” He laughs. “How wonderful.” 

 

“It’ll force you into the community, Ben. You’ll be taking part in volunteer work for potential jobs -- you’ll meet employers willing to overlook your crime--”

 

“Considering my crime, I don’t think any employer is willing to take a chance on me.”

 

“You’ll never know if you don’t try.” She huffs loudly and Ben almost feels guilty for pushing her buttons and irritating her when it’s usually near-impossible to do. “Why are you so ready to give up? You’re out Ben -- you could’ve been in there much longer, but you’re out--”

 

“I’m thirty-eight, so unemployable that I’m working for an Uncle who hates me, living with my mother because no landlord will ever deem me rentable when there’s a fuckin’ happy family of three to house in their shitty apartment.” He blows out a long-winded breath. “So yeah, I’m out -- but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. The world gave up on me the moment I was sentenced; giving up is the only option I have.” His hands sit atop one another, finger tracing the bruise on his left as if to soothe it away -- her physical pain, his emotional pain, all of it. “There’s nothing left to try for… Not anymore.”

 

Dr. Holdo is silent after his outburst. Ben’s heart is racing faster than the ticking clock, this time; so hard and fast it beasts against his chest -- almost like a punishment; almost like a reminder that this is all his fault. 

 

And that ring -- that fucking too-tight ring -- is simply just another set of handcuffs, binding him further into solitude. A consequence of past actions, leading to something he never thought would happen. 

 

She finally gave up. 

 

“One session.” Holdo finally chimes in as he stares at his hands. “You go to one session; trial it out. See how you come out.” He swallows thickly, eyes fluttering to a close. “That’s all I’m asking here, Ben. Please, just -- just one session.” 

 

But I gave up first, he thinks, fisting hard into his grey sweatpants. Your fault, his minds chants against the ticking and the heart beat, your fault, your fault, your fault--

 

“Alright.” Ben relents. “One session.” He glances up to glare and clarify. “ One.” 

 

“That’s all I’m asking.” 

 

“And that’s all you’ll get.” 

 

Her cool eyes roll, another huff escaping her chest. “Such little faith.” Holdo flicks her wrist to check the time. “Ah. We’ve gone over--”

 

“Nothing new.” He deadpans, earning a small smile. 

 

“No, not at all.” She admits as he stands from his seat, Holdo following a few moments later, guiding him to the door. “I’ll see you next week, though, and send you an email later about this program.” 

 

Ben hums, hand reaching around to rub at his neck. He hears a sharp intake of breath. 

 

“Ben?” She questions, a wickedness dancing in the cool eyes that somehow unsettle more than their usual unfeeling stare. “Are you seeing someone?” 

 

He falters at the inquisition; hand pausing on the door knob, brows furrowing. Ben watches her eyes stray from his gaze down to the side of his neck, just an inch away from his relaxed fingers. 

 

The confusion sets in thick as the mind turns the question over in his head, again and again and again -- searching for a reason to receive such an absurd personal question. 

 

Ben’s eyes find his left hand upon the door once more. A second later, the confusion lifts and the knob begins to rattle from the strength to his grip. 

 

His lips twist into a scowl, then -- recalling the memory of his body reflected in the bathroom mirror that very morning; the marks upon his thighs, his neck, his pectoral muscles -- just like that fucking ring, only… splotched upon his flesh, not fine-edged. 

 

No amount of scrubbing nor soap could make them disappear, though -- each time they appeared, Ben would try, and each time he’d step out of the shower, red-skinned and raw; the marks still untouched, day after day, until they faded with time. 

 

Ben supposed it was punishment for his crime. His other crime; his true crime -- not the act that got him incarcerated, but something far more heinous. 

 

It was deserved -- it is deserved: for her to give up and move on; for her to say yes to another and live a lifetime together while he chooses solitude. 

 

But even admitting that… it doesn’t make it easy to accept, but only shake with rage. 

 

Rage, that burns at his vision; forcing his eyes to meet Dr. Holdo’s, that scowl morphing into some grotesque smile that, for the first time, shines shock through her widening pupils. 

 

“It’s not mine.”

 

Understanding dawns as he turns his back, wrenches the door free walks from the room; leaving his therapist with the new knowledge that he, Ben Solo, has a soulmate. 

 

A soulmate that chose another. 

 

~ * ~

 

At the young age of seventeen, Ben Solo’s body became a painting overnight. 

 

An artwork of various colours displayed upon his skin; blended into all kinds of shades grazing at the sides of his torso: faded greens and yellows, blotted faint browns and all kinds of deep shades of blues, like the stretching of a night sky -- one would almost call it beautiful if it wasn’t at the expense of another. 

 

A canvas of pain. 

 

But young and naive as he was, Ben knew what it stood for; he knew what it meant. 

 

He just didn’t know what to do. 

 

Soulmates were rare — something written in history books; a phenomena that slowly died out as the world grew bigger. He’d listened to his teacher drone on and on about them; how people gave up on finding their other-half, how some barely noticed they had one at all. 

 

When the marks showed up, it was obvious. He thought about showing his parents or, hell, even his parents — but then the bruising spread all over his body and suddenly Ben knew his ‘situation’ was far more delicate and important than ever. 

 

Or rather, his soulmate’s was. 

 

“That’s the third time you’ve wiped down that table.” He straightens at the sudden intrusion, twisting on swift feet to find his Uncle’s attention directed at him. “I think it’s pretty clean now.” A brief pause has Ben shifting on lanky limbs, the lingering silence layering onto his sticky situation. “Something on your mind, kid?” 

 

Ben looks down at his feet and shrugs despite the nagging that urges to answer honestly.

 

“Just the usual.” He mumbles. 

 

“Ah.” Luke murmurs, nodding absently. “Counting the days till graduation?” 

 

“Yeah.” 

 

“Thought you’d be happier about that.” 

 

“Happier about working here full-time?” Luke barks out a laugh as Ben manages a weak grin. “That’s a future to look forward to.” 

 

“You’ll get into college just fine; move away, far from here. There’ll be no more tables to wipe. You’re smart, like your mother.” 

 

“Thanks--”

 

“But you can’t lie for shit.” His sheepish smile slips quickly. “Whatever it is -- I won’t judge. Seventeen is a confusing age. ” 

 

He toys with his lips, eyes moving from his Uncle to glance out the window.

 

The moon is bright and shines through, despite the overclouded sky; rain splattered upon the window, droplets racing to the bottom -- as a kid, he remembers sitting in the back of a silent car, fingertips tracing the droplets to track who wins.

 

It’s a reminder of simpler times. 

 

“It’s… it’s not about me.” He admits quietly. “Not really.” 

 

“Not really.” Luke repeats, before plucking up the broom to resume the sweep, sweep sound that swishes through the quiet nature of the restaurant. 

 

Ben inhales deeply, wondering if his Uncle is really paying attention--

“It’s about my soulmate.” 

 

--and exhales as one final sweep cuts through.

 

“Your soulmate -- you have a soulmate?” 

 

A sunken look passes in his Uncle’s eyes. It’s fleeting and disappears in the flash of lightning that flares outside the window.

 

“Don’t sound so surprised.” 

 

“It’s… uncommon these days. Nearly impossible” He defends quickly at Ben’s insulted frown, oddly stiff in his position as thunder rumbles closer. “And you’ve never mentioned it.” 

 

“I only just found out.” 

 

“How?” 

 

It’s a demand he wants to refuse -- He won’t understand, Ben thinks. How can he understand when I don’t myself? 

 

Another crack of lightning, closer this time, begins to shake the building. His Uncle’s intense eyes, bathed in a luminescent blue, call for an answer. 

 

Ben can’t find his tongue. Or maybe he’s just forgotten how to use it. 

 

So he lifts up his shirt in one, swift motion — another flash, lighting up the bruises tattooed upon his skin. 

 

“Jesus, Ben!” The exclamation is loud and instant, horrified eyes widening as he clamps a hand across his mouth. 

 

One. Two. Three. 

 

Three seconds is all it takes for him to look away. 

 

Thunder brews and rolls, filling the tense silence between them. Ben drops his shirt back into place. 

 

“How long?” Luke chokes out. “This is… Christ, Ben.” 

 

“A while.” He stumbles out honestly. “It… it hasn’t been like this, though, not always. It was small at first — so small I just assumed they were mine.” 

 

“How long has it been—”

 

“A month.” 

 

“A month?” Luke shakes his head. “God.”

 

“I know, I know — I should’ve said something sooner.” Ben panicks, tone steadily shaking. “I just didn’t know what to do or how to help.” 

 

“Right.” Luke nods, eyes pointed at the floor. “Right.” He repeats frantically, finally glancing up and taking a step forward. “It’s alright.” 

 

Ben takes a deep breath in and nods minutely, over and over; like a bobble-head. Sweaty palms wipe themselves dry on this front of his trousers before fisting the material entirely. “What do I do?” 

 

Another bolt of lightning strikes the ground, closer yet again. 

 

“You… you have to get in contact.” 

 

Ben shakes his head, hand flat against the table, taking the brunt of his weight. “That’s… there’s no way—”

 

“There is.” Luke counters. “Any normal pen will do — lots of pressure when writing your message, though. The harder you press, the longer it’ll appear.” Ben holds his breath. “Get their name — their full name, you understand, not just their first?” 

 

“Then what?” 

 

“You just get the name and leave it to me, alright?” Ben frowns. “You trust me?” Reluctantly, he nods. 

 

The next bright bolt strikes so close it shakes the ground, cracking over the rain with a ferocious roar of thunder. It settles within his hollow chest, waking the nerves into a frenzy.

 

Luke’s blue eyes are washed in a tidal wave of fear.

 

“Then get their name.” 

 

As he nods, and intones ‘I will.’ in a grave manner, Ben begins to question if his Uncle has a soulmate — and if so, who they are and where they’re at. 

 

Or… if they’re even alive. 

 

~ * ~

 

 There’s a familiar sort of bitterness, watching her drive away. 

 

Ben can remember being little, tears tracking down chubby cheeks, hands clutched in a stranger’s while watching his mother drive off. ‘It’ll be alright,’ the stranger would soothe, low and irritating to his six year old self, ‘ mommy will be back soon. How ‘bout we go play while we wait for her, hm?’ 

 

He hated that phrase.

 

Mommy will be back. 

 

He hated how true it was — she always came back to pick him up, wrapping him in her arms with a kiss on his head — but most of all, he hated how no one said the same of his father who’d often leave on some spontaneous trip. 

 

No one ever said ‘it’ll be alright,’ then. No one ever said ‘Daddy will be back soon.’  No one ever knew when daddy would come back; if he’d come back. 

 

He did, though. Every time. Until one day, he didn’t. 

 

Ben sucks in a breath and skulks on the sidewalk, finally shifting away from the road to the building before him. It’s his old elementary school; a small private institution that seemed so much bigger as a child. 

 

It’s still  just as daunting. Ben swallows thickly. 

 

Get it over with, he exhales, what’s an hour session to seven years? 

 

The path is a short walk, passing an upgraded playground he used to swing off at one point in time. Inside, he meets a hastily scrawled sign messily written in texta. It’s taped to the wall, lopsided, displaying the room number and an arrow pointing to it’s direction. 

 

He strolls to it slowly, taking in what’s different about the hall, delaying the inevitable. When he reaches the doorway, he stands in the frame. 

 

There’s a woman with her back turned to him. She’s wearing a pale blue sundress, contrasting nicely against her golden tan. The back droops open and Ben can’t quite stop his eyes from tracing the curve to her spine, the way her neck cocks to the side as she looks down on whatever holds her attention on the desk. 

 

He continues his study, taking in the odd three buns she’s wrapped her hair in, finding them oddly nostalgic. He’s reminded of his mother. 

 

Then she turns and suddenly it’s her eyes he’s staring down. They widen in surprise. 

 

“Oh!” She jumps, biting down on her bottom lip while checking the time. Ben quickly looks away from her  mouth. 

 

How long has it been? 

 

“Sorry, I wasn’t expecting anyone. You’re a little early.” 

 

“Sorry.” He murmurs, though it doesn’t sound all that true. He does a once over of her lithe body, now that she’s presented it to him — long legs, flared hips, small breasts, slender neck and a very, very pretty face with golden eyes that he can’t seem to look away for. 

 

She happens to do it for him. 

 

“That’s alright.” She waves off, though there seems to be a blush to her cheeks. Then she steps forward, determinedly looking up while sticking out her hand. “I’m Rey.” 

 

Rey.  

 

He never thought he’d heart that name from a woman’s lips. 

 

Ben’s eyes drop to the hand offered, arm tingling with the memory of a pen pressed so deep into his arm that it broke skin; how she must have done the same because her name, REY NIIMA, was tattooed for days. 

 

He’s barely able to process the truth of it all as she awkwardly tucks her right hand back at her side. Then, his eyes find her left. 

 

There’s a rock on her slim finger, too-tight, glinting under the sun, but his eyes catch on the purple hue edging beneath it. That same purple hued ring, buried in his left-jean pocket. 

 

He rushes out before he can mention his name.